The international community had high hopes for South Sudan, the world's newest country, when it gained independence in 2011 after decades of civil war with Sudan. Over seven years since independence, the small country has witnessed itself unravel at the seams, scattering millions of people both within and across borders.
Political strife between President Salva Kiir, with a mainly Nuer army, and exiled Vice President Riek Machar, with a mainly Dinka rebel following, has created fighting along ethnic lines. The international community has claimed that ethnic cleansing is being committed by government troops, and the country is on the brink of collapse.
The reality of this fragile country cannot be ignored and has been well documented. Yet, behind the scenes of a country the world would rather forget exists a quiet rebellion in those who continue to express themselves through art, fashion, and activism. When I returned to South Sudan in August 2017, I was interested in digging into this counter-narrative. How do youth find respite in the midst of war? What is the media not covering? What brings people hope? I began to explore these questions in Juba, the capital of South Sudan and what I found was a city vibrating with culture, pride, and bold style.
Even in wartime, hope is essential. As Akuja de Garang said, “we all have to wake up in the morning and get dressed, whatever is happening.”